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Animal Ambassadors

A furry friend with a wagging tail is a welcome pick-me-up for tapped-out business travellers and conference goers

By Angela Kryhul

Imagine arriving at your hotel lobby after a stressful trip, only to find a businessman on all fours giving tummy rubs to one of the hotel customer service reps.

It’s a sight that wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with hotels that keep a resident pet and the extraordinary soothing effect they can have on frazzled business travellers. Petting, snuggles, walks and playing catch are all in a day’s work for Santol, canine ambassador at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City. Lisa Ramsay, CMP, director of meetings and incentives for Protective Life Insurance, Birmingham, Ala., says a group of 300 she brought to the hotel last fall fell in love with him and, behind the scenes, Santol helped lighten the mood of her hardworking meetings team. “Just having the dog come into your workroom for a few minutes helps everyone to chill out.”

Hotel pets—usually cats or dogs—can be very therapeutic for anyone spending long periods on the road. They’re non-judgmental companions that help people feel more at home, says Mark Grant, director of team leaders for Therapeutic Paws of Canada, a volunteer organization that takes dogs and cats anywhere there’s a need for comfort therapy including nursing homes, schools and hospitals.

More than just mascots, resident pets are working animals that have set daily hours and time off. Dogs, like the Frontenac’s Santol, often attend site inspections and can be booked to greet conference attendees, says Geneviève Parent, director of public relations with the Frontenac. Many hotels also use their pets in such promotional materials as websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, email, postcards and holiday cards.

Phyllis Stephenson, general manager of the Best Western Plus Chocolate Lake Halifax, says the hotel decided to run with the whole chocolate branding theme by adding Cocoa, a Chocolate Labrador, as its welcome ambassador. “Business travellers love the fact that they can have a pet on the road. One of our regular guests even asks that Cocoa sleep in his room at night.”

Jeanne Miller, Canadian radiation and explosives manager for Calgary-based Schlumberger Canada, has booked groups into the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire for two-week training sessions. Ben, a Chocolate Labrador, “came to the meeting rooms during the breaks, he made people laugh,” Miller says.

“We identified this program as creating a genuine emotional connection with our guests,” explains Erin Richter, CTE, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, and Ben’s owner. “Besides, how can you take yourself too seriously with a dog that wants a tummy rub.”

House Rules
Here are some questions to ask before your group arrives:
• Is the hotel pet leashed? If permitted to roam freely, which rooms are off-limits?
• Are guests required to sign a waiver before taking the pet for walks?
• When is the animal ambassador available to greet arriving guests, or to visit during conference breaks?
• Attendees with severe allergies or who are afraid of animals should be advised of the hotel pet well in advance.

Celebrity Pets
Resident pets are local celebrities, but they never let fame go to their heads. Ben of the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire for example, has been featured on CNN and the Jay Leno Show. Santol and canine pal Catie Copley, who “works” at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, are the stars of Catie Copley’s Great Escape, a children’s book by Deborah Kovacs.

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